Memorising a textbook

Hola hipsteros,  it’s been a while but I’m back.

I have lots to report, but first up I wanted to let you know that I am attempting to memorise a textbook.  My 13-year-old son is learning Spanish in high school, and for various reasons that I will explore in another post, I think that the way his studies have been arranged, he is almost guaranteed to have the typical secondary high school language experience of at a least a year of study, followed by failure to be able to communicate, and the conclusion that learning a language is just too hard.

So, together we are studying, with the assistance of Anki, Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish.  We have been going through it for five weeks now and are almost at the end of Chapter 7.  There are 45 chapters in all, so we should well and truly finish it by the end of the school year here in the southern hemisphere.

I am doing this because he is interested in mythology, history, religions, art and science, and I can easily envisage him having to learn another language in the future in order to further his career.  When that time comes, I want him to believe that he is capable of learning another language.  And the best way I can think of doing that is to teach him an effective way of learning another language now.

I will report on our progress as we make our way through the course.

Up and Back and Right on Track

'Remember to pace yourself!'
‘Remember to pace yourself!’

Studying every. single. day.

Since my last post, inspired by Nick in Denmark and a colleague of mine who is on a 155-day Duolingo streak and is acing her Spanish class as a result, I have tried to establish what Duolingo calls a streak – that is, I have tried to study my Anki flash cards every single day.

This is a bit of a change for me.  But I have to say that it works.  At the moment I’m on a 73-day steak.  I’m learning 15 new phrases each day, as well as revising the phrases that I have already learnt.

It works out at about 150 cards per day, and I’m consistently getting 90% of the answers right.  When I was trying to average 70 new words per week, and not studying on weekends, I was averaging about 80%.  Last year, when I tried learning 100 new words at a time, I had a 60% success rate.

It’s more fun when you’re getting most of the answers right, and by taking it one day at a time, I don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.

Furthermore, in the last 10 weeks I’ve learnt more vocabulary than I did last year.  I’ve finished memorising my Chinese phrasebook (more about that in another post), and have moved on to  the FSI Standard Chinese course – I’ve almost completed four units.

Learning Chinese – One Year In



When I started memorizing my Spanish phrasebook, I picked an arbitrary number of phrases to learn each day – 10.  This seemed achievable to me, with the added benefit of being able to quickly calculate and track my progress.

This seemed to work well for me for the first three months, then I took a month or so off, then learnt 50-100 words per day for two weeks, before spending a week and a half revising my deck without learning any new words.

The problem with learning a lot of words or phrases quickly with Anki is that the number of cards to review also adds up very quickly, and before you know it you have to revise two or three hundred cards per day, with occasional spikes of five hundred cards in one day.  I call this problem The Wrath of Anki, and I’ve posted about it before here and here.

In his book Fast, Easy Way to Learn a Language Bill Handley states that in his opinion it is more effective to learn lots of words quickly and poorly rather a small amount of words slowly but surely.

I thought I’d try the Quickly and Poorly method with Chinese.  So I’d learn 100 new phrases in one session, then revise and revise until I had the number of cards I had to review down to a manageable level, then learn 100 more. Continue reading

Entrada de primer aniversario (un poco tarde)

He comenzado esta entrada en 18 junio – exactamente un año desde he comenzado este blog.

Tuve no tiempo terminarlo hasta hoy.

De 18 junio 2014 a 18 junio 2015…

  • He comenzado este blog.
  • Hice un experimento a ver si es posible memorizar un libro de frases para aprender un idioma (español). (¡Es posible!)
  • Hice un examen español.
  • He terminado 18 unidades del Curso Español FSI (Programático), y he memorizarlos con Anki.
  • He comenzado  memorizar un libro de frases chino.
  • He escuchado a el podcastSerial (en inglés).
  • En febrero, terminé aprender frases nuevos.  En junio, necesité cinco minutos por día revisar mis cartas.
  • Hoy, estoy memorizando mi libro de frases chino.  Casi he terminado. No va tan rápido como español.  Voy a elaborar en una otra entrada.

Hasta la vista,


Belated 1st anniversary post

I started this post on 18 June, a year to the day since I started this blog.  The period since then has been incredibly busy for me, so only now am I able to finish it.

In the year 18 June 2014 to 18 June 2015…

  • I started this blog.
  • I conducted an experiment to see if it is possible to learn a language (Spanish) by memorising a phrasebook. (It is!)
  • I sat a Spanish exam.
  • I completed 18 units of the FSI Spanish Programmatic Course, and committed them to memory using Anki.
  • I started memorising a Chinese phrasebook.
  • I listened to all 12 eps of the Serial podcast.
  • I stopped adding cards to my Spanish Anki deck in February.  By June, it was only taking me five minutes or so per day to review my flashcards.
  • As of today, I’ve almost memorised my entire Chinese phrasebook.  It is taking longer than Spanish – I’ll explain why in another post.

All the best, wherever you may be,